Voith and Mactavish Architects
U Penn Biotech Commons

Construction Zone: Libraries/Media Centers

June 2, 2021

New vision for old library

The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia is renovating an outdated biomedical library to create Biotech Commons.

The project transforms the space into an open center for cross-disciplinary learning, prototyping, and collaboration.

The renovation rethinks what a university library can be in an era when book reference and individual research have given way to digital learning, hands-on making, and exploration. Gone are the carrels and the stacks, replaced with tech-integrated conference spaces, collaboration classrooms with movable furniture and boards, and a digital fabrication lab equipped with modeling tools and 3D printers.

Situated at the intersection of several university schools—including the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Sciences, and Engineering—the renovation recasts Biotech Commons as a crossroads where scholars from these disciplines can exchange ideas.

Each of the spaces—from the conference centers and study rooms to the fabrication shops—is free to be scheduled by any student. The Commons does not require a Penn ID for access, making it a barrier-free place that drives innovation by inviting professionals, students, and community members together to collaborate.

The project made substantial changes to the existing building. Housed in a brick structure from the late 1960s, the original library was unassuming, with dark interiors.

The renovation replaces the brick facade with floor-to-ceiling windows at ground level. This opens up the building to the campus, allowing passersby to see inside and bringing natural light to the interiors.

At the heart of the plan are clusters of adaptable group work spaces that accommodate anywhere from four to 12 people. Beyond this are smaller, semi-private spaces collaboration, including conference centers and adaptable classrooms.

The redesign also creates a large gathering and meeting space that can host up to 80 people and be flexibly adapted for a range of uses.

Throughout, finishes were selected for durability, environmental friendliness, and ease-of-maintenance, lowering Biotech Commons' lifecycle carbon footprint and operating costs.

The building also has one of the first gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, advancing an important university initiative.

Work on the renovation is projected to finish in June 2021, and the building is expected to open in time for the Fall 2021 academic calendar.

The architect is Voith and Mactavish Architects.


County and school district join forces for new library

Dorchester County, S.C., and Dorchester School District 2 are joining forces to build a $6.2 million on joint-use media center and library at Fort Dorchester High School in North Charleston.

The Charleston Post and Courier reports that officials have approved a memorandum of understanding between the district and county for the project.

The facility will be west of the aquatic center in front of Fort Dorchester High School. It will consist of a 5,000-square-foot media center and a 10,000-square-foot library.

The two spaces will function separately when required and as a single facility to benefit the community as a whole. The joint-use library will be designed so that high school students and the public will have access to the buildings during school hours.

Council Chairman Bill Hearn says the project is part of a growing trend of collaboration between the school system and county government.

Two representatives from the library, two from the school district and two from the county will select a design team, and the project should be completed 18 months after construction starts, a county spokesperson says.


Cutting-edge Learning Complex

Coastal Carolina University has received approval from the state of South Carolina to build a $29.8 million Library Learning Complex.

The complex will be built on the Conway, S.C., campus adjacent to Kimbel Library, which will undergo a $10 million renovation of its own.

Tentative completion date for the Library Learning Complex is fall 2023, and Kimbel renovations will begin thereafter with a scheduled completion date of late 2024.

The two-story, 64,000-square-foot Library Learning Complex will integrate student spaces and services with cutting-edge immersive technologies.

The first floor will feature a large makerspace, a virtual reality lab, data visualization, and individual studios for video/audio production. It will also feature a large, open study area for collaboration and socialization.

The second floor will house areas such as academic tutoring and student computing services. Additional group study rooms will be situated throughout the building.

"When Kimbel Library opened in 1977, it was designed to serve 1,400 students," says Daniel Ennis, the university's provost and vice president for academic affairs. "Even with subsequent expansions and renovations, it was never intended to serve more than 10,000 students. The new Library Learning Complex will immediately become one of the finest academic libraries in the state, and will provide students access to study spaces, enhanced academic support, and state-of-the art learning technologies."


Bigger and Better

The next major construction project at High Point University in High Point, N.C., will be a new library.

The Greensboro News & Record reports that the university plans to open the $80 million facility in 2024, in time for the university's 100th anniversary.

At 160,000 square feet, the new building will become the university's main library. It will replace the Smith Library, which opened in 1984 and has less than a third of the square footage of the new library.

The four-story building will house books, digital resources, private study spaces and an art gallery. It also will have space for a new admissions center, which now occupies a separate space on campus.

High Point said in a news release that it plans to build the new library on campus on the site of the Norcross Graduate School building, which stands near the Millis Athletic and Convocation Center.

A new library and admissions center are part of a 10-year, $1 billion growth plan that the university unveiled in 2019.

High Point said it plans to use most of the money it raises, about $700 million, to increase the university's endowment substantially so it can award more student scholarships. The rest will go toward new facilities.

Over the next decade the university hopes to erect more academic and athletics buildings as well as new residence halls and dining facilities.

Once the new library is open, the university plans to use the existing Smith Library and Wrenn Admissions Building for some student services offerings and faculty and staff offices.


LEED Gold for Temple's library

The Charles Library at Temple University in Philadelphia has received LEED Gold certification for its environmentally friendly design and construction.

A major factor contributing to the facility’s Gold rating is its green roof.

“The library’s green space in an urban environment is important not only to the students and stakeholders of the university, but green space can also help manage the natural precipitation that falls onto the site,” says Julia Mullin, associate director of construction for Main Campus. “The roof above the fourth floor is planted with sedums—small drought-tolerant plants—that need very little maintenance and help contain and filter the precipitation that falls onto the roof. This limits and slows down the stormwater runoff that ends up in the city’s underground stormwater systems, which can be overtaxed during heavy rain events.”

The 220,000-square-foot building opened in 2019.

Other green elements that contributed to the LEED Gold certification include reducing water use by using low flow toilets and faucets, optimizing the energy use of the building by using energy-efficient equipment, and using construction materials that contain recycled content or low-emitting materials.

Charles Library also has high-reflective paving to reduce the heat island effect and superior air quality through the use of low-emitting materials, air filtration and increased ventilation.

The architects are Snohetta and Stantec.

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